During the August 25 Airlines Confidential podcast, former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza took a listener question about whether checked bags have to travel with passengers.
The listener flew from Denver to Los Angeles with their family. His wife’s ID didn’t match the name on their ticket, and they couldn’t get this sorted in time for the flight. She had checked a bag, but had to take a later flight. The gate agent told them “we no longer remove bags from non-flying passengers, so her bag will travel.” It did.
Baldanza agreed that positive bag matching is required, but that there’s an exception in this case. I don’t think he’s right here. Baldanza said,
- The agent gave “a partially correct answer,” it would be more correct to say “we no longer remove bags for all non-flying passengers.”
- When there are multiple people in the same reservation (PNR), then “what the security rule says” is that as long as another adult in the booking is on the flight the bag can travel.”
- Since he was still traveling, his wife’s bag could go also.
Baldanza concluded, “for security reasons there can’t be a bag in the belly of the airplane that isn’t owned by anyone on board the airplane” since an adult on the reservation was on board it was fine. This just isn’t the right answer to the question, as far as I’m aware.
Positive Passenger/Bag Matching (“PPBM”) was common in Europe before the United States, though programs developed here in the years following the the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. It means that the passenger and their bag has to travel on the same flight. If a passenger offloads from the aircraft, the baggage has to be removed also.
The idea there is that for security reasons you don’t want a passenger putting something on the aircraft (a checked bag) without tying their own life to its contents. That doesn’t help against a suicide bomber but before 9/11 the expectation was that terrorists didn’t want to lose their own life in the process (and it’s not clear that all of the 9/11 hijackers realized that was the plan either).
However “positive bag matching” is generally not done on U.S. domestic flights anymore because the bags themselves are now being screened. Positive bag matching is required under 49 USC § 44901(e)(1) as one of four methods of compliance where baggage isn’t electronically screened.
- Passenger and bag can be required to travel together
- Bags can also be manually searched
- Or searched “by canine explosives detection units in combination with other means”
- Or baggage security can be handled through “other means or technology approved by the [TSA] Administrator.”
Passengers and their bags are separated all the time even where positive bag matching is in place. For instance an airline may fail to load baggage onto a connecting flight. The passenger continues their journey, while the bags follow later. That’s considered acceptable because it’s not the passenger who redirected the bags, in fact the passenger intended to fly with their bags.
Making sure passengers and bags travel together was considered a second best, replaced on domestic flights by screening of bags themselves. And bags are certainly screened on an American Airlines Denver – Los Angeles flight.